Two Austrian soldiers shot in Damascus being treated in Israel
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Two Austrian peacekeeping soldiers wounded in crossfire in Syria were transferred to Israel for treatment on Friday, a hospital spokesman said, describing their condition as not life-threatening.
The two, members of the United Nations monitoring force that observes a truce between Israel and Syria, were on their way to Damascus airport for a flight home when their vehicle was caught in crossfire between Syrian government and rebel forces.
Syrian state television said on Thursday the two were wounded by gunfire when rebels attacked an army position near the airport road.
"The two soldiers are in their 20s and suffered gunshot wounds. One was hit in the chest and is in moderate condition, and the other to the hand, and he is lightly hurt," said David Ratner, a spokesman for Rambam hospital in Haifa.
The two crossed by land from Syria into the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights from where they were flown by an Israeli military helicopter to the hospital in the northern Israeli port city, he said.
"We are a designated hospital to care for injured United Nations soldiers in the region but this is the first time that we have had to deal with anybody hurt in the internal Syrian conflict," Ratner added.
The U.N. peacekeeping force monitors an Israeli-Syrian ceasefire which has been in place since the 1970s. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in a 1967 war and later annexed it in a move never recognized internationally.
Technically, Syria and Israel are at war, but the Golan, a strategic plateau, has been mostly quiet for decades.
Stray shells and bullets from the internal Syrian strife have however landed on the Israeli-controlled side of the frontier in recent weeks and Israeli troops have fired artillery shells into Syria in response.
(Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)
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